Emerging faces

Spring practices get underway at Colorado next weekend and fans should begin to hear more about a group of players who will be making contributions in 2010. Many of these players have been on the roster for at least a year. Can they help coach Dan Hawkins get things turned around in Boulder? Get inside for more.

No Colorado player enters 2010 with more buzz surrounding him than wide receiver Toney Clemons.

The transfer from Michigan who sat out last season could be a difference maker for the Buffaloes. Clemons is being added to the mix at just the right time. CU lost wide receiver Markques Simas to a DUI and it is unclear whether Simas will continue to be a part of the program.

If Simas is not a Buff next fall, Clemons figures to be at least as good and maybe better than the player who finished the final four games of 2009 as one of the hottest receivers in the nation. If Simas is available, then Clemons will combine with him and senior Scotty McKnight to provide one of the Big 12 Conference's better trios of wide receivers.

Clemons is the cousin of Arizona Cardinal Steve Breaston and has learned a lot from Breaston and other NFL players since he last played a college game in 2008. He has prototypical size, speed and hands and could be a candidate for Big 12 newcomer of the year next fall.

Several other wide receivers could make an impact beginning this spring. Kendrick Celestine returns with a more mature approach after leaving the program and becoming a father and then working his way back on to the team. Celestine brings speed to the CU offense and some game day experience.

Redshirt freshman Jarrod Darden and Terdema Ussery also should have opportunities to make plays next season. Ussery will miss spring ball dealing with an illness back home in Dallas but he is expected to return to the program this summer.

Tight end DaVaughn Thornton figures to add even more punch to the CU passing game. During his true freshman season last fall, he was one of the most impressive additions to the roster and often had onlookers wondering why he wasn't playing

Thornton adds an element of athleticism to the tight end position not seen in Boulder since players such as Joe Klopfenstein and Daniel Graham wore the silver, black and gold.

Perhaps no other area of the team needs to pick it up this year more than offensive line. CU has played a lot of inexperience there over the past two seasons, but there shouldn't be any excuses now. This group needs to be better in a hurry.

Junior college guard Eric Richter was brought in to help that cause. CU has had trouble at guard for two years, especially on the left side, where Richter is slated to play. If he can stand up better on the run and against the pass rush, it should help the entire offensive improve.

Colorado bid farewell to Cha'pelle Brown at the end of last season. Finding a replacement for him at cornerback shouldn't be too difficult, but it will be tough to replce his experience and versatility.

Senior Jalil Brown figures to be the replacement at nickle back when the Buffs are in the nickle package. Jalil Brown also will probably start opposite Jimmy Smith at cornerback in the standard defense, but redshirt freshmen Ayodeji Olatoye and Paul Vigo should be in the mix to play in the nickle and dime packages. Jonathan Hawkins and Steven Hicks, both of whom have been in the program for several years, also will figure into the competition.

CU lost four senior linebackers last year and competition within the group should be fierce this spring. It's not a stretch to imagine Jon Major, Michael Sipili, B.J. Beatty, Doug Rippy and Tyler Ahles will get plenty of playing time in 2010, but redshirt freshmen Liloa Nobriga and Derrick Webb could surprise and offer solid depth in case of injuries.

Zach Grossnickle will be then punter next season and might get a chance to compete with Aric Goodman at place-kicker. Grossnickle was allowed to fly under the radar last season, but he will be more heavily scrutinized when spring ball starts. Improving on a subpar season from senior Matt DiLallo last year should be easily within Grossnickle's reach.

running back Brian Lockridge ought to be the Buffs' kickoff return man in the fall after performing nicely there at the end of last season, but CU desperately needs a new punt return man and a new approach to the completely ineffective ideas it employed last season when its punt return team was among the worst in the nation.

Redshirt freshman Parker Orms is one of the fastest players on the team and is a very elusive guy. If he can prove reliable with catching the ball and securing it, he could be the man.

Nick Hirschman might not be ready to push starter Tyler Hansen and backup Cody Hawkins for playing time just yet, but a year from now we fully expect a legitimate quarterback battle between Hirschman and Hansen heading into the 2011 season. It will be interesting to see how Hirschman adapts to the college game this spring, especially during scrimmages and full-contact portions of practice.

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